Wheel Balance and Front End Alignment Troubleshooting

Closeup of a vehicle tire with sand on the treads

PeopleImages / Getty Images

Imagine this scenario: While driving, you notice your vehicle just doesn't feel right, so you take it to the local repair shop and request a front end alignment. Later, you pick up the car and are unhappy with the shop because it still has the same problem.

That scenario is more common than you might think because people often assume they know the solution to a problem and ask for a specific service, instead of describing the symptoms as accurately as possible and allowing the technicians to make a proper diagnosis.

Our wheel balance and alignment troubleshooting tips will help you pinpoint a vehicle's symptoms so that you can convey useful information to a repair person. Potential diagnoses, presented by symptom, are a guide to help you understand your car, but should not be used to make a diagnosis yourself.

Causes of Shaking or Vibration

  • A constant shake or vibration at all speeds could be caused by a bad tire or a bent wheel
  • A constant shake or vibration at specific speeds or ranges of speed may indicate an out of balance wheel or wheels
  • Vibration when you hit a bump could be caused by worn or loose steering or suspension parts. This symptom can also occur when there are loose front wheel bearings.
  • A constant steering wheel vibration may indicate a problem with the front wheels;
  • While a constant vibration, felt in the seats, could be a problem with the rear wheels

Pull or Drift

Incorrect tire pressure is the most common cause of pull (vehicle wants to go quickly to the left or right) and drift (truck makes a gradual direction change).

Issues with Radial Tires

Do you feel a consistent pulling to the right or to the left? It might be radial pull, which can occur anytime, even with new tires. If you have the ability and tools, try switching tires side-to-side (left side tires with right side tires). If the pull changes directions or stops, you're dealing with radial pull.

Steering Alignment or Worn Parts

If the alignment is out of spec or you have worn steering components, the vehicle will pull or wander (you must constantly correct to the left and right).